Helping Everyone Get a Better Night’s Sleep

as seen in Brooklyn Family Magazine and on

Dear Sharon,

Do you have any tips to give a parent who is not getting any sleep? My 5 year old son is waking up every night and coming into bed with us. We’ve tried many things to put an end to this, but nothing we’ve done seems to work. My husband is not handling it well either.

Dear Mom and Dad,

I believe that it is vital for parents to get as much sleep as possible. Parenting is complicated enough without adding exhaustion to the mix. Here are some of the possible solutions moms and dads I have met with have instituted to address this common dilemma.

Some parents with big enough bedrooms put a mat or small mattress in their rooms. This gives their child a chance to be near them without crowding their limited space. They feel that when their child is 7 or 8 years old the tendencies to look to parents for middle of the night reassurance naturally change. (In most cases this is true). They also believe that it can be a bit lonely for a child to sleep alone and as long as mom and dad’s sleep is not drastically interrupted they are OK with this temporary solution.

Others decide to go into their young one’s room when he or she can’t sleep, it is sometimes manageable to “head back to bed” when a child has fallen asleep. Some moms and dads in this group get large beds or a separate place to rest in their child’s room. This solution can also mean that a child’s sleep patterns are less interrupted and can eventually lead to sleeping through the night. Of course it also can end up with parents sleeping separately for part of the evening.

Naturally there are parents who do neither and expect that their child stop the habit; letting them “cry it out.” As you suggested in your question this can be easier said than done. The level of a 5 year old’s upset as well as parents’ tolerance can vary greatly.

Whatever you choose here are some important things to keep in mind before instituting any change.

When helping a child alter a disruptive behavior it can help to discuss the transition outside the moment. In this case that means talking about sleep patterns during the day in a relaxed setting. Calmly explain why everyone needs sleep at night and make sure to take time to listen to your child’s point of view. Even if he or she is upset, listening to what they have to say can help them think things through.

Often asking a child to offer their own ways to help make the change can be useful. It can be surprising when children cooperate more fully with a challenging change when involved in the process.

Setting up a rewards system can also help. I suggest offering the agreed upon “prize” on a daily basis at first, possibly presenting something even more special after a few days of success. (a week can be along time for a 5 year old to wait). Stickers on a rewards chart can work for some families but sometimes a tangible present can provide more incentive. Ultimately the real reward is a restful night for everyone.

Moms and dads also need to stay calm when explaining and instituting the change using as few words as possible to express their position. If a child “forgets” at night it is especially important to be calm and brief; animated conversations take time and completely wake everyone only making a bad situation worse.

Although your question is common the answer is not always easy to find. If none of these ideas fit your family it might be good to consult a professional who could hear more specifics and tailor solutions to match your particular needs.

My best wishes for a restful night’s sleep soon.